Did Ramanuja introduce the Namam? What did Vaishnavites wear before that?

  • Vadakali I think was after Ramanuja...period.... Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 14:40
  • What is namam? and this seems related to history so u can add that tag
    – Rickross
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 15:24
  • forehead marking @rickross
    – S K
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 15:26
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    @Ikshvaku It is a Telugu word. Whether it is also a Tamil word, I dont know.
    – user16581
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 16:18
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    @Ikshvaku, it is kind of sanskrit + tamil word. naam of course is the naam of bhagavan. since we're supposed to wear it while chanting the appropriate names of god, it is also called namam (tamil usually adds 'am' or 'an' at end, like 'raman' for ram)
    – ram
    Commented Feb 11, 2019 at 16:36

1 Answer 1


The Urdhvapundra has been worn from ancient times (pre-Ramanuja). The Pancharatra, Puranas and Smritis glorify the Urdhvapundra worn with white clay and gopi-chandana.

In the Sri Vaishnava Guru Paramparas, when discussing the life of Ramanuja, it is recorded that the white clay worn as Urdhvapundra was difficult to obtain in those times. Ramanuja managed to identify a place in Melkote where it was available.

I am not aware of an English translation of the Srivaishnava Guru Paramparas which is traditionally in Manipravala but the story is mentioned in the various English biographies of Ramanuja. E.g. See the chapter 29 on Melkote in Alkondaville Govindacharya's version - https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.214575/page/n189

Vedanta Desika analyzes various pundras in his Saccaritra Raksha chapter 2 and reasons why a Mumukshu should only wear a vertical pundra.

His citations in support of wearing the Urdhvapundra span Shruti (Mahopanishad, Katha Shakha, Bhalla ShAkha (also called Bhaallavishaakhaa in Sureshvara's Vartika), and Atharvana Veda), Smritis (Agniveshya Grihya Sutra, Bodhayana, Vriddha jAbAli, shAtAtapa, Vishnu Smriti, Daksha), Puranas (Matsya, nAradIya, Brahmanda), Agamas (pArameShtya saMhitA, sanatkumAra saMhitA, brahmANDa saMhitA, vAmana saMhitA, pArAsharya saMhitA, bhArgava saMhitA, brahmarAtra, nAradIya)

When discussing the materials used in the Urdhvapundra, Desika cites ShankhaH, Gautama, Apastamba, Shatatapa, Atharvashiras, Varadaguru's Tattvasara, Brahmanda, Markandeya, Parameshtya Samhita, Kundina's Krishnamantra Kalpa, Brahmaratra, nAradIya saMhitA, Vriddha Vasishtha Smriti, pAdma saMhitA, pArameshvara saMhitA, Aditya Purana, Varaha Purana, Markandeya Purana, sAtvata saMhitA.

Desika also cites the works of the Azhvars, in particular Nammazhvar's Tiruvaymozhi 4.4.6, 4.4.6, 4.5.6, 4.6.5.

When discussing the location where the clay should be gathered from, Desika cites pArameShTya saMhitA and brahmANDa.

There are other topics discussed including the specifics of the type of clay, its color, its shape, how to apply it, etc. Largely the same sources discussed above are cited in these sections.

Among the clearly older texts, the Mahopanishad, Agniveshya Grihya Sutra, Sattvata and Padma Samhitas, Vishnu Smriti and the works of Nammazhvar are all clearly pre-Ramanuja.

Some examples:

Citing the Mahopanisad verse

dhṛtordhvapuṇḍraḥ parameśitāraṃ nārāyaṇaṃ sāṃkhyayogādhigamyam । jñātvā vimucyeta naraḥ samastaiḥ saṃsārabharairiha ceti viṣṇum

Desika explains:

dhṛtordhvapuṇḍraḥ jñātvā ityanvayaḥ। mumukṣur naraḥ dhṛtordhvapuṇḍraḥ dhyāyet iti vidhyarthaḥ।

This is to be understood as "Having worn the Urdhvapundra, having realized (Narayana)... is liberated". The injunction means - A man desirous of mokSha should wear the Urdhvapundra and meditate.

Some other references cited by Desika:

Katha ShAkha says that a noble soul is one who wears the Urdhvapundra (among some other attributes).

dhṛtordhvapuṇḍraḥ kṛtacakradhārī viṣṇuṃ paraṃ dhyāyati yo mahātmā
svareṇa mantreṇa sadā hṛdisthaṃ parātparaṃ yanmahato mahāntam

The Atharvana Veda says that one who wears the Urdhvapundra in the shape of the foot of Hari (eventually) attains liberation.

hareḥ pādākṛtimātmano hitāya madhye cidramūrdhvapuṇḍraṃ yo dhārayati sa parasya priyo bhavati, sa puṇyabhāgbhavati, sa muktibhāgbhavati

Agniveshya Grihya Sutra declares that the Urdhvapundra should be worn and the Tripundra should not.

tripuṇḍraṃ brāhmaṇo vidvān līlayāpi na dhārayet । dhārayetprayataḥ samyagūrdhvapuṇḍraṃ tu nityaśaḥ

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    You should cite sources. Like quotes from the Satcharitra Raksha and/or quotes from the Guru Parampara Prabhavam. Commented Feb 12, 2019 at 17:22
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    @KeshavSrinivasan Sources are already cited. Quotes are not mandatory. Many books are not available online. The user has given chapter name from Satcharitra Raksha and Ramanujacharya's biography. That is enough for citation purposes. This no longer needs a citation banner. Commented Feb 13, 2019 at 7:06
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    @KeshavSrinivasan I have updated the answer with a fairly exhaustive list of sources quoted by Desika in the SR. I have also provided a few quotations and their meanings from the SR. I also provided a like to an anecdote from the Life of Ramanuja in lieu of the quotation from the Guru Parampara which I don't have the time to trace. I think this should be sufficient.
    – hashable
    Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 2:39
  • Do you know where I can get Satcharitra Raksha in hard copy? Either online or offline for free or purchase? Is a soft copy available on the internet? Commented Feb 16, 2019 at 3:31
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    @brahmajijnasa Vedanta Desika simply says "tathA AtharvaNam". It's not obvious which part of the Atharvana Veda he is referring to. The Smriti-Mukta-Phalam aka Vaidyanatha Dikshitiyam is a Dharma Sastra compilation extremely revered by Advaitins (and others). It also makes a reference to this verse as an Atharva verse. archive.org/stream/smRti-muktA-phalam/SMP2_aahnika#page/n89/…
    – hashable
    Commented Feb 17, 2019 at 7:05

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